Ambach v. Norwick


In Ambach v. Norwick (1979), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a New York statute that forbade the granting of permanent teaching certification to aliens who qualified for but had not applied for and had no intention of applying for American citizenship did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Facts of the Case


Norwick, born in Scotland and a citizen of Great Britain, and Dachinger, a Finnish subject, each met all of the “educational requirements” New York required for a teaching certificate. In this case, both persons were qualified but refused to apply for American citizenship. Both persons asked the court to consider whether the statute’s requiring American citizenship in order to receive a state teaching certificate was constitutional.
A federal trial court in New York applied “close judicial scrutiny,” striking down the statute as overly broad when it applied to all resident aliens in all academic subject areas and did not consider the “alien’s nationality, or the nature of the alien’s relationship to this country, nor the alien’s willingness to substitute some other sign of loyalty to this Nation.” As such, the court decided that since the statute was discriminatory, it violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The Court’s Ruling


On further review, the Supreme Court ruled that while the statute denied permanent certification to aliens, the commissioner of education had the authority to grant provisional certification to persons who were not yet eligible for citizenship but who possessed skills or competencies not readily available among teachers who had certification or to individuals who were unable to declare their intentions to become citizens for valid statutory reasons.
In responding to the trial court’s recommendation that aliens be allowed to sign a loyalty oath in lieu of applying for citizenship, the Supreme Court noted that 11 times the Constitution makes a fundamental distinction between the rights of citizens and aliens. The Court thus determined that since the Constitution considered the status of citizenship legally significant, the government was entitled to wider latitude in limiting the participation of noncitizens in functions of government such as public education. The Court noted that “functions which go to the heart of representative government (p. 74)” is one situation where the state is only required to provide a rational relationship between the entity seeking protection and the retraction and limitations of rights.
The question then became whether the services provided by public school teachers were “functions which go to the heart of representative government” and if so whether a rational relationship existed between their professional services and the governmental interest of requiring citizenship before certification. In its analysis, the Court reviewed its own precedent from the previous term, wherein it ruled New York had not discriminated against policemen by requiring that all police officers be citizens of the United States (Foley v. Connelie, 1978). In that case, the Court acknowledged that police fulfill a fundamental obligation of government which goes to the heart of a representative government. The Court added that due to the function of police officers, since a rational relationship existed between citizenship and their jobs, the State had not discriminated in requiring them to be citizens.
Similarly, the Supreme Court was of the opinion that public education fulfills a fundamental obligation of government by preparing individuals to be citizens and by preserving societal values. Additionally, the Court pointed out that the day-to-day services provided by public school teachers reinforce the country’s basic responsibilities, including military service, cultural values and attitudes toward government, and preparing children for professional training. Especially on consideration that teaching includes teaching civic virtues to young children, the Court explained that the services provided by public school teachers go to the heart of a representative government and have a rational relationship to the function of government. As a result, it held that the New York statute meets the rational relationship requirement.
The Court concluded that teachers provided a function that goes to the heart of the government, and because there is a rational relationship, their entitlement to teaching certification was not accorded constitutional protection. In the eyes of the Court, because the aliens chose to maintain their foreign citizenship, they had, in effect, made a voluntary choice that precluded them from obtaining a permanent teaching certification and that because the decision was that of the aliens, the state of New York did not violate their rights under the Equal Protection Clause.
Brenda Kallio

See also Equal Protection Analysis; Teacher Rights
Legal Citations
Ambach v. Norwick, 441 U.S. 68 (1979).
Foley v. Connelie, 435 U.S. 291 (1978).
Wardell v. Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Cincinnati, 529 F.2d. 625 (6th Cir. 1976).